Many of us ask ourselves what constitutes a hero. We detail them to the fullest extent. Screenwriters not only have to ask themselves what a hero is, but they also have to bring this hero to life through the medium of print. It’s difficult to find a hero any more deserving than that of Elek Cohen (Jonas Armstrong) in Mark Schmidt’s Walking with the Enemy.
Set in Hungary during World War II, the story follows Elek, a Hungarian Jew, as he embarks on a life or death mission to save innocent Jews from the carnage of the Nazi reign in Europe. After killing an SS Nazi Lieutenant, Elek dawns the uniform of the enemy in attempts to thwart mass persecutions of Jews in Hungary. Based on a true story, it’s through these acts of heroism that he solidifies his place in history as a man who couldn’t stand by and witness the execution of his people.
Although his character embodies the great qualities of a hero, the rest of the story struggles to mesh with Elek’s efforts. Walking with the Enemy begins as what one would be believe to be a love story between Elek and Hannah (Hannah Tointon). The story then transitions into a full-blown series of rescues missions, as everyone awaits the Allies’ arrival to thwart the Nazi regime. The presence of Regent Horthy (Ben Kingsley), as the leader of Hungary, appears to be filler scenes. They hardly progress the story along. Whenever the audience is brought back to Elek’s heroic efforts, they are exposed to a new mission he has set out on with little understanding as to why he’s pursuing such a mission.
Even though the story doesn’t climb to rhythmic points of tension, Walking with the Enemy delivers intense moments of action, and excellent depth of characters in Elek, Miklos, and Jozsef. This isn’t enough to propel the film to compete with the likes of Schindler’s List, or Saving Private Ryan. The film does provide an original storyline focusing on the perspectives of the Hungarian Jews, which holds interest for the two hour runtime. Without giving spoilers away, the audience will feel a cheap payoff in the resolution of the film. The climax wasn’t strong enough to beget such an ending, but there are worse ways to end a film.
Walking with the Enemy is now playing at Philly theaters.